Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/December 1889/Governmental Aid to Injustice



PLACED in a world in common, with every degree of financial ability, positive and negative, we are all spurred on by common necessity, by common desire to escape hunger, cold, disease, and death. To this end we enter the business arena and struggle for bread, each offering for sale something he has himself produced in return for like offerings from others. In this arena we find the successful business man offering for sale a hundred tons of steel rails; beside him is a slender girl offering for sale the labor of her hands for ten hours. The commodity offered by each, by each has been produced: the business man's from a hundred tons of coal burned beneath a dozen boilers, perhaps; the young girl's, worked up in a physiological laboratory, comes from a night's rest, a morning and midday repast.

So long as each has produced his and her own offering, and is allowed to enjoy to the full the fruits of his and her own effort, no one shall say him nay if the business man offsets the muscular energy of the young girl by a thousand or by ten thousand fold. Neither economics nor morals shall stint or limit the business man's returns so long as legitimate business methods alone are adhered to, so long simply as business men are content to take what they have produced, and leave to others their own productions. In a purely democratic country each should enjoy all the freedom which is consistent with a like amount of freedom in others, and each should be given full right to the enjoyment of the fruits of his own effort. The maintenance of this status is the best function and only justification of government. Just as church and state, or science and religion, are best separated, so politics and business should be divorced. The latter, depending on the natural resources of a country, should not be made to fluctuate with, every breath of public opinion, the medium on which politics depends; while for government to step into the business arena and assist one party or the other is as immoral, financially, as for the umpire of a ball-game to play upon one side or the other by partial decisions.

In 1887 steel rails were selling in the markets of the world for twenty dollars per ton. Like a wall around the United States, there was a protective duty of seventeen dollars, and steel rails were selling within this country at thirty-seven dollars per ton. Protection removed foreign competition, a trust removed domestic competition, and the two carried prices to the very limit. Here the business men of Pittsburg had gone out of the purely business arena—they had stepped into politics, had got the United States Government into their business as a business factor, and, securing to themselves the surrender of a part of its taxing power, they had government, which is only just when impartial, playing on their side.

Now note, the business man by government partiality gets thirty-seven dollars per ton where otherwise, or in the markets of the world, he could only get twenty. He has a rise in price on steel rails of seventeen dollars per ton. The young girl has worked a day and got a dollar; she wants ten yards of calico, and goes to a store and gets it at ten cents a yard, and pays the dollar her day had produced. The store-keeper would have charged only nine cents a yard but for extra freight he had to pay; the railroad charged extra freight because of the increased cost of its steel rails. In other words, when, by government interference on behalf of the business man, the price of steel rails was carried from twenty to thirty-seven dollars per ton, the railroad got it back by increased freights and the merchant by increased prices. The young girl got it back from nowhere; her ten cents was passed over to the merchant, who passed it over to the railroad, which passed it over to the business man.

Government, which can produce nothing, has wrought a different distribution of wealth; the business man gets all he earns as before, but also gets one tenth of the earnings of the young girl. Government is no longer just, because no longer impartial; the girl is no longer free, because not permitted to enjoy in full the fruits of her own labor. Ten cents apiece, once a year, from a hundred thousand persons, made up of young girls, boys, babies, sick and old folks, and the poor generally—for the tax can always be landed upon the poor at last—make ten thousand dollars. That ten cents to the young girl was blood-money; she will be less well clothed, less well nourished, and, taken from supplies already scant, it may mean hunger, cold, and even death to her. To the business man it may mean a cigar, or a stick of chewing-gum for his child, or, put with other forced contributions, the total may take his daughter to Europe for a pleasure-trip.

Here is one of our great captains of industry, assisted by accumulated capital and corporate franchises as well as the ability which makes him a captain of industry, competing in the industrial arena for the necessaries and good things of life with a frail girl who has only a one-girl power to depend on, and of the two he it is we find asking government aid, and aid to do what? Why, to take away to himself all his own and a part as well of the poor girl's earnings.

This in what ought to be the manliest country in the world, on the part of that section of our manhood best fitted by nature for the financial struggle for bread, and aimed by these financial giants at the weakest section of the community. We may talk about the ferocity of the Northmen tossing up babies and catching them on their spears, or about atrocities practiced in Russia to-day; we may imagine a Sullivan calling for steel knuckles with which to encounter a seven-year-old boy; but we can not believe that American manhood will not some time rise above the unparalleled meanness of the protective tariff.